SPRINGFIELD – With cold temperatures already chilling much of Illinois, Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today urged Illinois residents to begin preparing for even colder temperatures that can prove deadly. The Governor’s cold-weather safety advisory came as the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service prepare to kick off the annual Winter Storm Preparedness Week Nov. 16-22. The preparedness week is part of the Governor’s annual Keep Warm Illinois campaign.
“Frigid winter temperatures are a fact of life for much of Illinois,” said Governor Blagojevich. “Extreme cold can be deadly if people don’t understand the hazards and prepare to keep themselves safe and warm. With winter just around the corner, I urge everyone to take a couple minutes to find out how to keep yourself, your family and your neighbors safe this winter.”
According to the National Weather Service (NWS), extreme cold led to the deaths of 75 people in Illinois over the past 12 winters. During that same period, 25 people died in tornadoes or severe storms, 17 deaths were caused by snow and ice storms, 14 died as a result of flooding, and lightning caused 12 deaths in Illinois.
“People usually think tornadoes, flooding and lightning are the major weather-related killers, but in reality extreme temperatures kill far more people each year,” said Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA) Director Andrew Velasquez III. “During Winter Storm Preparedness Week, we’re working to make people more aware of the serious dangers of cold weather and prevent the tragedy of cold-related deaths.”
“Extended outdoor exposure to cold weather has resulted in 37 deaths in Illinois the past 12 winters - most of which occurred when temperatures were around normal values for winter,” said Chris Miller, Warning Coordination Meteorologist for the NWS in Lincoln. “The key thing to learn from this is that people cannot take the cold weather for granted, especially if they plan to spend time outdoors or if they find themselves stranded in the cold.”
The two major dangers of exposure to cold temperatures are frostbite and hypothermia. Frostbite is a severe reaction to cold exposure of the skin that can permanently damage fingers, toes, the nose and ear lobes. Symptoms are numbness and a white or pale appearance to the skin. When symptoms are apparent, seek medical help immediately. If medical help is not available, slowly warm the affected areas.
Hypothermia is a possibly life-threatening condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Symptoms include slow or slurred speech, incoherence, memory loss, disorientation, uncontrollable shivering, drowsiness, repeated stumbling and apparent exhaustion.
If these symptoms are detected, take the person’s temperature. If below 95 degrees Fahrenheit, immediately seek medical attention. If medical attention is not available, begin warming the person slowly. Always warm the body core first. Get the person into dry clothing, and wrap them in a warm blanket covering the head and neck. Do not give the victim alcohol, drugs, coffee, or any hot beverage. Warm broth is better. Do not warm the extremities (arms and legs) first. This drives the cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.
Outdoor winter safety tips
- Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, warm clothing in several layers (the trapped air between the layers insulates). Layers can be removed to avoid perspiration and subsequent chill.
- Wear outer garments that are tightly woven, water repellent and hooded.
- Wear a hat (half of body heat is lost through the top of the head).
- Wear mittens that are snug at the wrist. Gloves allow your fingers to cool much faster than mittens do.
- Cover the mouth and nose with scarves to help protect lungs from cold air.
- Attempt to keep your feet as dry as possible. Wear wool socks.
Indoor winter safety tips
- Stay indoors in a heated room as much as possible.
- Hang blankets over windows at night, but let the sun shine in during the day.
- When using alternative heat from a fireplace, wood stove, space heater, etc., use safeguards and ensure proper ventilation.
- If you have no heat, close off unneeded rooms and place towels or rags under the doors.
- Eat to supply heat to body and drink non-alcoholic beverages to avoid dehydration.
The Winter Storm Preparedness Guide provides comprehensive information about cold weather hazards, including frigid temperatures, snow and ice. The guide, developed by IEMA, NWS and the American Red Cross, is available on the Ready Illinois website at www.ready.illinois.gov or by calling IEMA at 217-785-9888. For more information about energy assistance and weatherization tips through the Governor’s Keep Warm Illinois campaign, visit www.keepwarm.illinois or call toll-free 1-877-411-WARM.